Irish Workers power only answer

Finbar Geaney, Militant, May 1972, No. 2



Direct rule has solved nothing. The Tory and Unionist Party still governs Northern Ireland. The problems of high unemployment, low wages, slum housing and sectarianism cannot be solved by a Party whose record in office at Westminster has been one of continuing and unabating attacks on working class living standards. Not only that, but the threat of more redundancies and even higher prices rises within the EEC remains.

Whitelaw, himself a time tested Tory, is assisted by Windlesham and Channon, both members of Irish brewing 'families'. Windlesham was involved in the drawing up of the Immigration Bill in Britain, and Channon's claim to fame has been his contribution to the Housing Finance Bill, which aims to drive up rents in Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Derry Development Commission, set up in 1969 and consisting of eight businessmen and one trade unionist, failed utterly to solve the social problems of the city. How much more so this Tory Commission of Whitelaws! In no way does the abrogation of Stormont get to the source of the problem. It is no more than an attempt by the British ruling class to alleviate what is for them a rapidly deteriorating situation. In that sense, it is a similar 'initiative' to that of Callaghan in 1969, when he sent in the troops. At that time, the Labour leaders and the 'moderate' leaders of the Catholic population hailed the act as a great step forward. Less than three years later, 300 people at least have been killed in the six counties.

The 'Westminster Special Powers Act' is still being used to keep almost 900 men in prison without charge or trial. In protest the rents and rate strike continues. But the 1 million arrears has not been forgotten. According to Howell, Undersecretary for Northern Ireland, in the House of Commons on April 20: "Unemployment benefit has been redirected in 1,000 cases to meet the liabilities of rent defaulters; sickness benefits in 1,200; supplementary benefit in 2,000; pensions in 2,000; family allowances in 5,500 and other benefits in 1,000 cases."

The two-day strike in protest at the imposition of Direct Rule, while illustrating the distrust of the Protestant working class for the Westminster government, nevertheless was used by the Unionist right wing as a platform for their reactionary ideas. When Craig said at the Ormeau Park in March, "We must build up a dossier of the men and women who are a menace in this country, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy, the sort of enemy he had in mind were not just the IRA members; the forces of the State and anti-democratic organisations like Vanguard will in the future be used against Protestant workers.

The talk of Unilateral Declaration of Independence on the one hand and integration with Britain on the other, are but attempts to blur the glaring class contradictions within both movements. The increasing need for political leadership is becoming more and more apparent in the Catholic areas of Belfast and Derry. The role of defence taken up by both sections of the Republican movement since 1969, must be linked to a political campaign to involve not only the Protestant working class, but the working class in the whole of Ireland.

The campaign of bombing and terror cannot be continued indefinitely without a crushing demoralisation affecting the Catholic working class. The only force which can successfully combat British Imperialism is a united working class and the emergence of that force is being delayed by the tactics of the IRA in this period.

The establishment of democratically elected street committees to defend the areas, with a view to setting up of an armed Trade Union Defence Force, which could defend all areas from sectarian attack, should be the perspective.

Unity between Protestant and Catholic workers can be achieved n issues such an unemployment, prices and opposition to the EEC. In fact, if these issues are to be successfully fought, the such unity is essential.

The strike of maintenance workers at the Michelin factories in Ballymena and Mullusk, involving both Protestant and Catholic workers, is an example of how sectarianism can be fought on the basis of clear issues. The laying off of a third of the workforce in the 100% Protestant engineering factory of Sirocco, indicates that when it comes to sackings, there is no discrimination. Those workers who joined the massive strike in March 1970 against the Industrial Relations act have already given a lead.

The recent 'unofficial action' in the 26 counties, of 500 shift workers in the Electricity Supply Board, is a clear indication of the mood of the most advanced sections of the Irish working class in the fight for better wages and conditions. The strike, one of the most serious in the history of the state, during which generating capacity was reduced by 80% and 95% of manufacturing industry closed down, demonstrated the essential unity within the ranks of Irish labour.

Even the call by the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, to other trade unionists to break the strike, did not meet with much success. Is it any wonder that [Taoiseach] Lynch praised the 'commendable intervention' of the trade union leaders!! They, like the political leadership of Irish labour, showed themselves incapable of learning the political lessons from the struggle.

The storing up of CS gas from Britain and the USA by the 26 counties government; the buying of armoured cars from France and Sweden; the nationwide recruiting campaign for the Gardai and the use of the Offences Against the State Act by arresting the Official Sinn Fein leaders, are an indication of the way the ruling class will move should their power be threatened.

The riots in the border towns such as Ballyshannon, Monaghan and Lifford, illustrate that the Southern ruling class is incapable of leading a struggle for reunification. Their only role is a divisive one Already, the miserable economic growth rates of the last few years have undermined their economic position. The apparent inability of the catholic leaders to understand this process and the unwillingness of the Labour leadership, north and south, to boldly confront the class enemy of Protestant and Catholic workers, has led to increasing demoralisation in the ghettoes of the six counties.

The Vanguard movement, an all class alliance, having in its ranks men like Craig, whose past is rich in anti-trade union activity, poses a very real danger for the Labour movement. Vanguard serves the interest of nobody but the disparate elements emerging from the chaos within the Tory-Unionist Party.

It is the duty of militants, in the Labour Parties and trade unions in the north and south of Ireland, to fight for socialist policies and preserve the essential unity of the movement.

The run down of traditional industries in the six counties, such as ship-building and linen, and the ever increasing rate of redundancies in the 26 counties under the pressure of free trade, must be halted by a programme of nationalisation with minimum compensation, involving the working class in the whole of Ireland. The Labour Party Conference in Wexford showed that, as in 1969, there is again a searching for left wing ideas amongst conscious workers.

The total trade union membership in Ireland is 649,800. The percentage of workers in trade unions in the 26 Counties is 52% and 54% in the six counties. This force must be won to a socialist programme for taking over the banks and monopolies and ending the control of the five percent of the population which owns over 70% of total personal capital: such a movement can defeat, not only sectarianism, but the full might of British Imperialism.



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